Australian reptiles and their conservation

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Austral Ark: The State of Wildlife in Australia and New Zealand, 2014, pp. 354 - 381
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© Cambridge University Press 2015. Australia has a spectacular and diverse reptile fauna approaching 1000 species, 93% of which are endemic to the continent. Despite this, there is a paucity of information on the biology of Australian reptiles compared with mammals and birds. The single greatest threat to Australian reptiles is the removal of native vegetation, most of which has occurred in the state of Queensland during the past few decades. Since European settlement in Australia, land clearing for stock grazing and other agricultural activities has reduced the extent of native vegetation, and resulted in extensive habitat fragmentation. Ultimately, habitat fragmentation leads to species loss and local extinctions. Other threats to Australian reptiles include livestock grazing, which occurs on 55% of the continent, coupled with changing fire regimes and predation by exotic predators, especially foxes and feral cats. Currently, we know little about the long-term impacts of pastoralism, fire and introduced predators on reptile communities. The conservation of Australian reptiles requires urgent changes in government policy to reduce rates of vegetation clearing. A critical challenge is the conservation of reptiles in the vast arid and semi-arid regions, where reptile diversity is remarkably high. This will require coordinated management of threatening processes across multiple land tenures, including pastoral leases, crown lands, Aboriginal lands and conservation reserves. In southern Australia, the conservation of reptiles in fragmented landscapes will require strategic tree planting to increase the sizes of habitat remnants and their connectivity, in addition to retaining important structural habitat features such as rock outcrops, old growth trees and fallen timber. In addition to in situ conservation practices, breeding programmes are being employed to prevent the extinction of imperilled species.
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